A decade ago, Laura Pasley was consumed by rage at her mother, who, she believed, had abused her as a child. But she eventually retracted her allegations and found peace as a pioneer in a movement supporting the accused.
Pasley, a retired secretary in the Dallas police department, is the first "retractor" in the ranks of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Hundreds of others have since disavowed their charges. They have lent immense credibility to the foundation's efforts.
Pasley filed a suit against her therapist on Nov. 18, 1991. She has spoken freely of her experiences on behalf of the foundation and posted her own graphic story on the Web.
She had gone into therapy suffering from bulimia and went to see a church counselor. Before long, he was demanding that she probe her memory for recollections of being sexually abused. He relied on hypnosis, made her stare at a photo of herself as a little girl and think about her inner child, and had her do "trance writing," journaling while under hypnosis.
She had a vague flashback of being abused in a bathtub, and her therapist concluded that it had to be her mother. Soon, she started having memories of her mother abusing her with a coat hanger. In group sessions, the counselor screamed at her to talk about her mother and have more flashbacks.
Her therapist of four years often berated Pasley for not working hard enough to dredge up memories of abuse. Finally, weary of the steady harangue, she ended her therapy.
Pasley filed her suit because she had read a newspaper story focusing on two accused parents who sounded like nice people. She had been in a group with their daughter, who had described them as satanic monsters. Pasley sought the parents out. "They were no more satanists than me," she says.
Pasley eventually realized that some of the horrific flashbacks she had were actually from movies she had once seen, Sybil and Deranged. She has patched up her relationship with her mother and continues to counsel accusers-turned-retractors.
"In my case, I had this deep, insatiable hole inside my chest, and here was a man who would listen to me," she says. "With that kind of therapy, there are no boundaries. It's not a healthy environment."
The courts have agreed with her. For example, in 1995, a Pittsburgh woman was awarded $272,000 after suing a teacher and social worker who helped her "remember" that she had given birth to three children who were killed and that she was raped in a restaurant.
Then came the multimillion-dollar judgments in false memory cases, including two $2.5-million judgments against a single psychiatrist in Minnesota. In 1997, a patient in Wisconsin settled for $2.4-million with a psychiatrist who implanted memories of extreme satanic abuse.
Recently, another development undercut the repressed memory movement. Dr. Bennett Braun, a major force behind satanic ritual abuse beliefs in repressed memory cases, turned in his license for two years.
"If not for some professionals with credentials who were a driving force behind -- people like Bennett Braun," says FMS foundation director Pamela Freyd, "this whole fad would never have gone as far as it did."